Movie stars playing chess

by Albert Silver
2/23/2015 – With the 2015 Academy Awards running its course, it is only fitting to take a look at the many movie stars who chose chess as their preferred pastime or hobby. When they had some time off whilst shooting a movie, they were caught in front of a board more often than not. Some names are well known such as Humphrey Bogart, but how about stars such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, and John Wayne?

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John Wayne and son Patrick during a break on the set of “McLintock!” (1963)

Lauren Bacall gives chessmaster Herman Steiner “the look” while Charles Boyer and Humphrey
Bogart finish a game between takes of “Confidential Agent” (1945) in which Boyer was starring.
The scene is Boyer’s dressing room at Warner Bros. Studio.

Marlon Brando between takes of “Julius Caesar” (1953) in which he starred as Marc Antony

Gary Oldman in front of his chess set

Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry play chess in Fry’s rooms at Cambridge in 1980. Though the two really
broke through thanks to their comedic partnership in "Jeeves and Wooster", and their eponymous hit
show “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, Hugh Laurie may be more recognizable to younger viewers as “House”.


An example of their lasting comedic work, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the sketch 'Your name, sir?'

Young Samuel Reshevsky plays against Charlie Chaplin

Every chess player knows the famous scene in "Casablanca" with Humphrey Bogart in front of a
chessboard, but here is one off-camera, on the set of the film. In it Claude Rains (left) watches the
usual suspects, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Heinreid, play a game.

Gregory Peck playing chess on the set of the classic "The Guns of Navarone" (1961)

Jimmy Stewart (right), Grace Kelly and Wendell Corey on the set of “Rear Window” (1954)

James Dean studies a chess position

Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and director Frank Capra on the set of "Meet John Doe" (1941)

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 1/23/2016 02:59
what an article!
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 2/24/2015 03:39
Kubrick was a common participant in Washington Sq in the late 50's and early 60's and used to come into the Marshall frequently where he would routinely play and defeat most players up to expert level.

Color pic of Kubrick and Scott on Strangelove set.
Escotero Escotero 2/23/2015 10:43

George C Scott and Stanley Kubrick
Karbuncle Karbuncle 2/23/2015 10:22
So it sounds like Kubrick was around 1800 level at that point. It might be his peak was around 2000 early on as I've played a lot of former 2000 and 2200s that had lost most of that strength later in life.
Hatzegopteryx Hatzegopteryx 2/23/2015 07:20
Speaking with Kubrick biographer Vincent LoButto, Burton recalled his first day on the set:

My contract was for a week. I just had two short scenes in the movie. I stayed for six weeks because Stanley and I were playing chess... Stanley was a stronger player than I but I was strong enough to give him sufficient struggle to where he enjoyed it. I beat him in the first or second game we played, and then I didn't win any more after that, but it was always a tight struggle. That's what he loved; I guess there was no one else around that played strong. (Wikipedia)
Karbuncle Karbuncle 2/23/2015 06:46
There's an anecdote that Kubrick lost a game to Tony Burton on the set of The Shining. Tony's last rating in the early '80s was 1642.
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 2/23/2015 04:00
Anthony Hann: Bogart was about 1400 .... John Wayne a full-on Patzer.... Stanley Kubrick was close to expert strength
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 2/23/2015 03:58
Kubrick & Scott
Gametheory Gametheory 2/23/2015 03:25
Several fascinating shots. James Dean studying a tiny pocket set with a little bird whispering
in his ear is over the top.
Anthony Hann Anthony Hann 2/23/2015 10:38
I have an older copy of ChessLife from the 80s that talked about various Hollywood stars that played chess.
John Wayne was mentioned and Humphrey Bogart as well. I forget who but a strong master but He said that bogart was a strong player probably around 2100 fide. JW was probably around 1800 very aggressive and liked to attack .
Hatzegopteryx Hatzegopteryx 2/23/2015 07:25
Errol Flynn is obviously playing checkers with director Compton Bennett. /H
ashperov ashperov 2/23/2015 07:17
Very cool. However in the second last pic, they are playing draughts which is not close enough :)